Interesting facts about ivory

Ivory, variety of dentin of which the tusk of the elephant is composed and which is prized for its beauty, durability, and suitability for carving.

The teeth of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, sperm whale, and some types of wild boar and warthog are recognized as ivory but have little commercial value, because of their small size.

The chemical structure of the teeth and tusks of mammals is the same, regardless of the species of origin.

The tusk is the upper incisor and continues to grow throughout the lifetime of male and female African elephants and of the male Indian elephant – the female Indian elephant has no tusks or small ones.

When male elephants do battle, they clash at high speeds, locking their tusks together in a show of strength. These elongated incisor teeth are so strong that their wielders often use them to wrestle and fling each other to the ground.

But tusks aren’t only for inflicting harm – outside of battle, elephants use them to clear paths through vegetation and even move trees. Most remarkably, each elephant keeps the same set of tusks — each weighing up to 400 kilograms — for its entire life.

To perform these diverse tasks, the stuff that makes up elephant tusks must be hard, strong and tough. This combination of qualities is part of what has made ivory such a coveted element throughout human history, selling at upwards of $2000 a kilogram today.


Historically used in billiard balls, piano keys and even hip replacements, ivory continues to be valued today for jewelry and other luxury objects.

The word “ivory” ultimately derives from the ancient Egyptian âb, âbu“elephant”, through the Latin ebor– or ebur.

Elephant ivory has been exported from Africa and Asia for millennia with records going back to the 14th century BC.

Both the Greek and Roman civilizations practiced ivory carving to make large quantities of high value works of art, precious religious objects, and decorative boxes for costly objects. Ivory was often used to form the white of the eyes of statues.

There is some evidence of either whale or walrus ivory used by the ancient Irish. Solinus, a Roman writer in the 3rd century claimed that the Celtic peoples in Ireland would decorate their sword-hilts with the ‘teeth of beasts that swim in the sea’. Adomnan of Iona wrote a story about St Columba giving a sword decorated with carved ivory as a gift that a penitent would bring to his master so he could redeem himself from slavery.

The Syrian and North African elephant populations were reduced to extinction, probably due to the demand for ivory in the Classical world.

The Chinese have long valued ivory for both art and utilitarian objects.

In Japan, ivory carvings became popular in the 17th century during the Edo period, and many netsuke and kiseru, on which animals and legendary creatures were carved, and inro, on which ivory was inlaid, were made.

The Buddhist cultures of Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, traditionally harvested ivory from their domesticated elephants. Ivory was prized for containers due to its ability to keep an airtight seal. It was also commonly carved into elaborate seals utilized by officials to “sign” documents and decrees by stamping them with their unique official seal.

At the peak of the ivory trade, pre-20th century, during the colonization of Africa, around 800 to 1,000 tonnes of ivory was sent to Europe alone.

In Japan, the increase in wealth sparked consumption of solid ivory hanko – name seals – which before this time had been made of wood. These hanko can be carved out in a matter of seconds using machinery and were partly responsible for massive African elephant decline in the 1980s, when the African elephant population went from 1.3 million to around 600,000 in ten years.

Chryselephantine sculpture is sculpture made with gold and ivory. Chryselephantine cult statues enjoyed high status in Ancient Greece. They were built around a wooden frame with thin carved slabs of ivory attached, representing the flesh, and sheets of gold leaf representing the garments, armour, hair, and other details. In some cases, glass paste, glass, and precious and semi-precious stones were used for detail such as eyes, jewellery, and weaponry.

An ivory tower is a metaphorical place — or an atmosphere — where people are happily cut off from the rest of the world in favor of their own pursuits, usually mental and esoteric ones. From the 19th century, it has been used to designate an environment of intellectual pursuit disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life. Most contemporary uses of the term refer to academia or the college and university systems in many countries. The term is referenced with a different meaning in the Biblical Song of Songs (7:4) and was later used as an epithet for Mary.

Ivory is also an off-white color that resembles ivory, the material which is made from the teeth and tusks of animals (such as, notably, the elephant and the walrus). It has a very slight tint of yellow. The first recorded use of ivory as a color name in English was in 1385. The color “ivory” was included as one of the X11 colors when they were formulated in 1987.

Ivory Coast is a West African country with beach resorts, rainforests and a French-colonial legacy.

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